If you’re traveling to Mexico and planning on bringing your own vehicle or renting a car, then you have most likely already heard all of the horror stories surrounding Mexican gas stations and how the gas station attendants scam you at every turn. Instead of listing out the 7 or 8 different tricks they use to rip you off, I’m simply going to tell you the best way to avoid a gas station scam in Mexico. The first thing to understand is that you are not allowed to pump your own gas and must, therefore, let a gas station attendant pump your gas for you. Secondly, the pumps do not have built-in credit card readers, which means that all credit card transactions are processed on handheld machines that may or may not be “working properly.”
So here is the step-by-step procedure you should follow in order to avoid getting scammed by a Mexican gas station:
- Figure out how many liters of gas your car holds (yes, liters because they don’t use gallons in Mexico). Use this to calculate how many liters of gas you will need to fill up your car.
- Calculate how many Pesos it will cost you to fill up the amount of liters you need. At the time of writing this, gas prices tend to range between 19-20 pesos per liter in more touristic states. Don’t put too much thought into the cents, just round up to the nearest whole number. For example, let’s say gas costs $19.89 MXN per liter and you need 25 liters. Then just calculate 20 x 25 = 500 Pesos. Put any leftover change towards the tip (I explain this further down).
- Prepare to pay in cash with exact change (if possible), using as few bills as possible. So if you want to fill up for 500 Pesos, then have one 500 Peso bill ready for when it comes time to pay.
- Pull up to the next available pump. An attendant will usually wave you in to indicate which pump is ready.
- Turn off the car, remove the key and get out of the vehicle.
- Tell the attendant very clearly in Spanish how many liters you want (for example, veinticinco litros). They might ask if you want a cash value instead; just say “no, gracias, veinticinco litros” (25 liters, if following this example).
- Watch the attendant input 25 liters on the machine.
- Make sure the Peso amount is at zero before the attendant begins pumping.
- Once the pump starts, keep an eye on the amount being pumped and being charged to make sure it is adding up as it is supposed to. Remember, you calculated exactly how much this fill up should cost you. During this time, the attendant will likely begin washing your windows. This is a free service. He or she may also want to check your fluid levels for free, but this is probably unnecessary for you so you can kindly refuse the offer.
- Once the pumping is done, confirm the amount of liters and the cost on the display. If everything is accurate, then you are ready to pay.
- Double check that you have the right bill (or bills, if necessary).
- When paying the attendant, clearly declare the amount of the bill you are handing him or her in Spanish (quincientos Pesos, if following our example). If using multiple bills, follow the same example for each bill, but adding up the total amount as you go instead of declaring the amount of each individual bill (doing that would open you up to error or a scam opportunity). By doing it our way, there should not be any opportunities for the attendant to scam you. Read below about what to do if they still try to scam you during this step.
- Since you rounded up in step 2, you will most likely have change coming back to you. This is where arguably the most important part of the transaction comes in.
- Tip the attendant! Since everything went smoothly and there was no funny business on the part of the attendant, then he or she has done their job properly and deserves a tip. According to locals, a standard tip for good service at the gas station is around 5-10 Pesos. Here, you can tell the attendant to keep the change and if it is less than 5 Pesos, then it’s good to toss in a couple more Pesos to get you within the suggested range. Why is this step so important? The reason it’s good to tip your attendant for good service is because it encourages him or her to continue providing good service; thus, discouraging attempts to scam their customers.
Don’t let this seemingly long list of steps to avoid a gas station scam discourage you. The entire process is actually quite straight forward and everything happens very quickly. Because of the speed of the transaction, however, it is that much more important to make sure everything is being done as it should be. Please also keep in mind that these gas station attendants work out in the heat all day and most of them are just trying to earn an honest wage. As long as you are kind to them and show them respect, they will most likely treat you with the same respect.
Additional tip: To be extra safe, look up nearby gas stations before going to fill up and choose the one with the best reviews. Chances are, every gas station will have at least one negative review from someone who got scammed. If the overall rating is over 3.5/5, then it’s probably a pretty decent gas station. Just follow our steps and you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
What if they try to rip me off while paying them in step 13? Since you’re paying in exact cash, the only thing the attendant could try to do is switch out one of your bills for a smaller bill and claim you gave him or her the wrong amount. Since you verified everything before handing over the money, you know this is not true. Stay calm, tell them you paid the right amount and that you do not have any more money. If they persist, you may be forced to be rude (everyone understands when someone is cussing them out, so the language you use is irrelevant). This is usually all it takes for the attendant to back off and admit you paid the right amount.
These are the steps we took every time we filled up our car in Mexico and we did not have any problems. Every attendant was very kind and earned the tips we gave them. Since there were two of us and we read so many horror stories, we even filmed the very first transaction to discourage any attempts of foul play, but this proved to be an unnecessary precaution.
Again, don’t let this discourage you from traveling via car in Mexico. So go ahead and get your rental car and enjoy your trip!
Have you tried our step-by-step process for avoiding a gas station scam in Mexico? If so, please tell us in the comments how your experience was! Have you had other experiences with gas station scams in Mexico or anywhere else for that matter? We’d love to hear about that too!